On Saturday, when objects falling from helicopters in a Damascus suburb began emitting a strange odor, the residents of Douma knew immediately what was happening. “People started shouting in the streets, ‘Chemicals! Chemicals!’” a 25-year-old student named Mohammed al-Hanash told the New York Times.
Syria and its allies in Russia have denied that chemical weapons were used in Douma, labeling the attack a hoax. Videos and photos from the site of the attack, along with witness testimony contradicted that, and on Thursday, the U.S. reportedly received physical evidence.
Blood and urine samples from victims of the attack have tested positive for chlorine and an unknown nerve agent, NBC News reports. The Syrian government has been known to use chlorine bombs, along with sarin, a nerve agent developed by Nazi Germany that was used in a 2013 attack that killed nearly 1,500 people outside of Damascus.
The NBC News reports come several hours after French president Emmanuel Macron said he too has “proof” that the attack used chemical weapons. He also said the proof shows it was carried out by the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Asked if France is planning to participate in retaliatory attacks on Syria, he was noncommittal.
“We will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective,” Macron said. “Regimes that think they can do everything they want, including the worst things that violate international law, cannot be allowed to act.”
The U.S. stance on striking Syria is no clearer, even after President Trump tweeted that missiles “will be coming.” In another tweet on Thursday, Trump wrote that an attack on Syria “could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged caution on attacking Syria. “We are trying to stop the murder of innocent people. But on a strategic level, it’s how do we keep this from escalating out of control — if you get my drift on that,” Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee Thursday morning. He added that an attack “is not yet in the offing”